BUZZARDS BAY — Work has slowed to a turtle's pace on a new hospital at the National Marine Life Center.
Just as the cold-stunning season for sea turtles has reached a feverish pitch, with a dozen more Kemp's ridleys sent to Boston in the past two days from Cape beaches on top of the record 24 earlier this week, work has come to a halt at the center, executive director Kathy Zagzebski said.
The center, located on Main Street, is making a plea to donors to raise $200,000 to finish the turtle ward, Zagzebski said. The center has already spent $3.1 million to complete the outer shell of the hospital, but doesn't have the money to connect the plumbing and electricity to the massive tanks that would be used to rehabilitate as many as 30 stranded turtles.
Enough money had been raised to complete the project, Zagzebski said, until it cost more than expected to clean up contaminated soil left behind by petroleum-based byproducts from the property's previous owner.
"There was more contamination uncovered than we expected," she said.
The National Marine Life Center is crucial for rehabbing stranded turtles, said Robert Prescott, director of the Massachusetts Audubon Society's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. More than 60 turtles have already been rescued this season, he said.
"(National) Marine Life Center is critical to capacity," Prescott said. "These are our turtles, they're our responsibility."
But without the ability to send turtles there for rehab, New England Aquarium may have to send them out of state to facilities in Maine, Long Island, Baltimore or even as far away as Florida, he said.
"We're going to have so many turtles, we literally don't have a place to put them," Prescott said. "They would be a key partner in getting them back into the wild."
Zagzebski said the center hopes to raise the money by Jan. 15 so it can bring contractors back in to finish the work. That will take three to four weeks, she said, and the center could still be ready to take its share of turtles once they're out of critical care at the aquarium.
The center is still operating its administrative offices and its educational facility, she said. Already some donors have come forward, including some of the volunteers who work at the facility. A $5,000 donation was made in memory of Daniel DeBarros, a Wareham teen killed in a car crash, and an anonymous donor chipped in $5,000.
Meanwhile, the center can only helplessly watch as the cold-stun season unfolds.
"It's killing me, Zagzebski said. "We are so close to opening the sea turtle ward. My friends are on the beaches rescuing them and my friends in Boston are taking good care of them. I really am trying to get the tanks ready so we can do our part."